Which of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers is
dominant in the Australian political system?
Reitz (2008) observes that, Australian constitution exemplifies
the separation of powers; hence delineate the functions of the legislature,
Executive and judiciary. The object behind separation of power among the three
branches is to develop the mechanisms for preventing overly power concentration
to one arm of the government. The institutions of the government in Australia
thus comprise of the legislative, Executive and judicial branches. The
legislature/parliament is involved in making and amending of laws which are put
into operation by the Executive and interpreted by the judiciary. Separate
personnel are designed to carry out the powers and functions in each branch.
The parliament/legislature comprises of the Queen, who is represented by the
Governor-General, Senate and House of Representatives. The Executive comprise of
the Prime Minister and the ministers who puts the law into action. On the other
hand, the judiciary that makes judgments about the law involves the subjects
over the High Court and the federal courts.
Accordingly, single agency cannot exercise a complete authority as
each has to be independent of the other. Division of power hence prevents
absolutism brought about by concentrating the branches to a single authority.
The checks and balances are thus created where no single branch can exceed its
power while ensuring the rule of law and protection of individual rights.
Halligan, (2007) argues that, apparently, a complete
separation of powers in Australia lacks as various roles of parliament,
Executive and judiciary overlap. One of such instances can be visualized through
the fact that the members of parliament are also members of the Executive. On
the other hand, the Executive and High Court judges are officially appointed by
Governor-General who exercises the powers as part of parliament. The connection
between the separation of powers and political system arises from the facts
that, the way the Australia law is made and managed depends on the personnel
appointed. A party with the support of majority members in the House of
Representatives remains in the government. Responsible government is
incorporated to work alongside the three arms of the government and thus
parliament begets on the power of the Executive arm which is answerable to it (Ganghof,
As Chalmers & Davis (2000) observes, the
Commonwealth Constitution has various implications to the powers divisions among
the three branches of the government. There is a conventional wisdom that
assumes that the basis of Executive dominance and control over the parliament is
through the disciplined two-party system. There are operational and theoretical
concerns that directly show where power is invested including the composition of
the Executive, election of Ministers and the responsible government. The
relationship that emerges between the Executive and the parliament becomes the
basis for the system of government. This has a central role in determining the
characteristic of national politics, the balance between the broader political
system and the government and the role of public institutions. There are no
explicit relationship between the Parliament and the Ministers which promote the
disciplined political parties and the Executive dominance. The power from the
foundation of the constitution was skewed in the favor of the Executive which
replaces the vital function of the parliament; decision making.
According to Schneider & Abedi (2006), the
Executive roles arise from the ambiguity springing from the constitution hence
it controls the means that would lead to reform. The party government and the
extension of the Executive dominate the Commonwealth Parliament. The historical
development has seen the rise of political parties which then undermines the
notions of a responsible government designed by the Parliament. Though there are
struggles between the Senate, House of Representatives and the Executive, the
outcome has always favored the Executive (Thomas, 2009). The
Parliament has consistently remained as a forum whose control and dominance is
largely by the Ministers of state. Though there is increased scrutiny by the
Senate since its formation due to minor party representation, the power of
government is not really constrained.
Chalmers & Davis (2000) continues that, the persistence of
preferential voting and single member constituencies ensure that parties remain
high in control of the Parliament. The parties controls the Executive while the
Executive control the Legislature which means that real reforms cannot be
achieved in Australia without fundamental constitutional changes. According to
Sloane (2008), the belief in responsible government left an
implicit presumption that allowed the Executive to evolve its dominance. The
vacuum left in the Constitution has always been filled by the Ministers which in
real sense should be filed by the Legislature. The Constitution vests the
Legislative power to the Federal Parliament consisting of Governor-General,
Senate and House of Representatives. However, in practice, the Ministers assume
control over the Parliament’s agenda, frequency of meeting, order of business
and legislative program.
Responsible government is not set in the constitution but is based
on the custom and convention. The intertwined issue about the political power
and the dominant arm of the government arise from the fact that the
parliamentary government gives rise to an Executive government that comes from
within a parliament and rules over the works of the parliament. On the other
hand, responsible government which is a unique feature of Australia governance
means that the Executive is responsible to the legislature making the
legislature more dependent on the Executive (Loney, 2008).
In other systems such as United States, there is a definite contrast as the
Executive is separate which means that, it is not directly answerable to the
parliament and thus the viewpoints between the two arms do not overlap as both
are independent from each other. The parliamentary government brings an overlap
to the functions of the legislature and the Executive. As members of the
Executive, the ministers are part of the parliament, the explicit separation of
the powers and functions are thus questionable (Kumarasingham, 2012).
The other major function of parliament is provision of the members
of Executive government. The constitution allows the party with majority of
representatives or coalition of parties with majority of members to assume
government where the leader of the party becomes the prime minister (Schneider
& Abedi, 2006). Consequently, the party with stronger support and
influence bears the Executive which assumes control of the roles of the arms and
particularly the legislature. The laws that are in favor or neutral to the
Executive will receive an upper hand despite the feel by the opposition and
parliamentary representatives from minority party. The Judiciary has less
influence on new legislations and relies on the legislature which in actual
sense is influenced by the Executive.
Loney (2008) argues that, looking at the functions of the
Executive branch of Australian government, it is possible to argue that the
dominant power is held by the Executive in the political system. The day to day
administration, governance of the country and execution of laws is invested in
the Executive. The laws that are passé by parliament are therefore carried out
by the Executive. The Governor-General forms a part of the Executive and act
only on advising the Executive Council and the Prime Minister. The
Governor-General is advised by the Prime Minister for calling for elections
every three years for House of Representatives. The connection between the two
arms of the government gives prominence to the Executive. As Gelber
(2006) points out, the reason behind this is from the fact that, as the
Ministers, the Prime Ministers and the Cabinet are part of the parliament who
pass laws, and part of the majority, their functions are pervasive in both arms.
The essence of power is based on the reasoning that, the Executive is formed
from the party that commands the majority in the parliament.
As Ganghof (2012) points out, in
practice of law, the Executive government has more functions than just
administering the government and execution of the law that the parliament
passes. The government must exercise its control over the House of
Representatives in order for it to survive. Practically, that means that the
Executive determines the legislations that the House of Representatives debates
and passes. This is the most conspicuous dividing line that explains the
dominance of the Executive over the other arms of the government, the
legislature and the judiciary. Considering the origin of the issues like the
budget appropriations and tax proposals which are highly related to the
functions of the Executive, the House of Representatives is highly influenced by
the powers of the Executive.
Reitz (2008) continues with his argument that the Prime Minister
is a pivotal person when it comes to the work of the Executive governments.
Apart from being a focus of media and public attention, there are immense powers
held by the post such as to determine the government policy directions and
shaping the composition of the government. The Cabinet and the Ministry with the
members of Parliament that the Prime Minister chooses serves in the Executive
arm to administer the various departments of the government. The Executive
gives legal effects to the decisions of the Cabinet and oversees various other
In conclusion, the dominance of the Executive over the Legislature
and the Judiciary is based on implicitness of the Constitution. The preference
of a responsible government for Australia democracy had the aspect of
ministerial accountability to the legislature. However, the requirement for a
responsible government was not explicitly spelled out nor was the mechanisms
that would sustain it. Lack of spelled out ministerial accountability leads to
the Executive dominance pattern.
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Kumarasingham, H. (2012). Exporting Executive accountability? Westminster
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Schneider, S. G., & Abedi, A. (2006). Winning is Not Enough: A
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